I am working with others at Seattle Pacific University on an Active Learning classroom project similar to the one at the University of Minnesota. Click on the image above to see a Photosynth of what the classroom looked like on August 9, 2011. The floor plan is shown below. Click on it to see an enlarged view.
In this classroom, students will collaborate around rounded tables (called pods) as the professor moves throughout the room. Each pod will have its own LCD display on a nearby wall where a group member can connect his laptop for use during collaboration. The professor’s podium workstation will be in the center of the room, allowing her to be roughly equidistant from all pods in the classroom. The professor has the ability to control what each group is seeing on their pod’s LCD display. She can share a presentation from her computer, or let each group control their own display. The professor can also share one group’s display with the entire class. Eventually, all of this will be controlled from an iPad app so that the professor does not have to return to the center of the room to change the input. The app being considered is not expected to be ready when school starts.
The furniture is portable. Each of the six tables can be split into three sections and rearranged for lectures or student presentations.
There is still a lot of work to do. Classes start at the end of September. Here are some of the questions I have. I would appreciate any feedback or additional questions:
- Are there too many tables in the classroom? Right now, there are six tables, each which can seat 9 students. Is there enough space between tables for the instructor to move around? For a wheel chair? Enough space to limit the amount of carry-over noise between tables?
- The Photosynth image shows one of the LCD displays on the same wall as the projector screen. Will that be distracting to students? Will all students at this pod be able to see their display?
- Is the display placement correct? Are they too high for comfortable pod viewing? Are they too low and therefore taking up valuable whiteboard space.
- Is there enough room for instructors to walk all the way around each pod to help individual students?
- Are the tables large enough for nine students to fit comfortably around them with all of their stuff? Would it make more sense to limit tables to seven students? This might make it possible to create a dead side on each table, allowing tables to be closer to the walls, thereby generating more space between pods.
- The Photosynth image shows one wall with whiteboard paint. I like the idea of having the room covered with whiteboard paint as it increases opportunities to visually share ideas. However, is the finish on the walls smooth enough for this to work effectively?
- The Photosynth image shows the long side of the podium as being parallel to the projector screen. On the floor plan, the long side of the podium is perpendicular to the projector screen. Is there enough room to move around if the podium is parallel? Will the podium be awkward to use if it is perpendicular?
Thanks for any ideas you share. It’s clear to me that our main priority now is to help faculty explore options for redesigning their courses to take advantage of this new learning environment. We need to know who is teaching in this classroom and get to work.